As Victoria councillors move to encourage commercial agriculture in the city’s backyards and vacant lots, pesticides are being rejected.
Staff had recommended the use of pesticides be restricted in regulatory changes that will allow commercial agriculture in all zones in the city, except in city parks.
Councillors supported Coun. Ben Isitt’s suggestion that the use of pesticides be banned.
“It would essentially say we’re opening up things in the city if you want to farm organically, but we’re not going to open it up for chemical, old-school agribusiness where you’re polluting your own land and everyone else’s land and all the food you’re growing,” Isitt said.
Coun. Geoff Young worried that the change would impose stricter regulations on urban farming than backyard gardens. He suggested instead that existing pesticide regulations “would apply to commercial agricultural as well as to people who are just growing chickens.”
Mayor Lisa Helps supported the move, saying she doubted a small-scale urban farmer would use pesticides.
“A large part of the Growing in the City project is to create food security, and health and wellness. So I think if we can do this, we’re not saying you must be organic, we’re saying don’t use pesticides,” Helps said.
The changes, part of a year-long initiative called Growing in the City, are designed to encourage the commercial production of everything from fruits and veggies to flowers, seeds, nuts, herbs, eggs and honey in backyards, on highrise rooftops and vacant commercial lots.
“I think the economics of farming are changing, and changing in the favour, I think, of growing close to home,” Isitt said. California’s persistent problems with drought and the sinking Canadian dollar are added incentives, he said.
“The economics of growing food locally and purchasing it locally are more favourable now than they have been for a long time. So it’s good to be ahead of the curve and I think we may see more uptake on this initiative than we would have even anticipated a year ago.”
If the bylaw changes that have been recommended are approved, as expected:
• Farm stands (selling only raw, unprocessed plant products eggs and honey grown on-site) will be permitted in people’s front yards.
• Rooftop greenhouses would be exempt from calculations of floor area, height or storeys (they would not be allowed in low-density residential zones or on multi-unit developments of less than four units).
• Loading of commercial urban agricultural products into a truck once a day would be allowed.
• The pesticide bylaw would be amended to prohibit pesticides for commercial urban agriculture use including on industrial, commercial and institutional properties.
• Limits would be placed on odours, noise and light pollution.
• Urban agriculture would be exempt from requiring a development permit for landscaping and market signs would be allowed.
City staff have been told to monitor the changes over two years and report back. Staff say commercial urban agriculture is an emerging phenomenon that “involves many different activities — growing retailing, processing, packaging, warehousing, storage, wholesaling — but does not fit neatly into zoning and other city regulations.”
Helps called the proposed changes exciting.
“We’re joining the 21st century in terms of how to become a city,” Helps said.
“This is something that’s been happening in the community for a long time. People run up against this restriction or that restriction, so we’ve taken a year to say what are all the restrictions and what can we do to be more enabling.”
The changes are designed “to support expanded small-scale commercial urban agriculture, with limits to minimize negative impacts on neighbouring properties, particularly in residential and commercial areas,” a staff report says.
Other components of the Growing in the City initiative include: development of an inventory of city-owned land for community food growing; a review and update of the community gardens policy; voluntary guidelines for food production in multi-unit, mixed-use developments and other types of housing; guidelines for fruit-bearing trees on city-held lands; and boulevard gardening guidelines.